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St David’s Day

Volume 717: debated on Monday 1 March 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consultations they have held about declaring 1 March, St David’s Day, an official Bank Holiday in Wales.

My Lords, I begin by wishing the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and our compatriots a very happy St David’s Day. No such consultation has taken place, but I must stress that, for the people of Wales and for Welsh people all over the world, the absence of a public holiday on St David’s Day has not diminished the appetite to celebrate 1 March in style and with pride.

My Lords, I think that I thank the Minister for that Answer on Dydd Gwyl Dewi, which is Welsh for St David’s Day. However, we have almost without exception the fewest public holidays of all the countries of the European Union. When we look to have a new public holiday, could we give priority to the national days of Scotland, Wales and England? St Patrick’s Day is already a bank holiday in Ireland, of course. Will the Minister initiate consultation soon with the devolved Administrations so that, when another opportunity comes to have a public holiday, we can move immediately, without any hesitation, to ensure that Wales, Scotland and England have their national holidays?

My Lords, bank holidays have to be established on the basis of consultation because they reflect the work-life balance, on which this Government have a proud record. It will be noted that we now have five and a half weeks of statutory entitlement. I bring to the attention of the noble Lord the fact that any decision on St Patrick’s Day is for a totally different country and Administration. As far as Britain is concerned, the position is clear: the Scots decided to opt for St Andrew’s Day; the Welsh Assembly Government have not as yet made a bid in the present programme for a public holiday for St David’s Day. If such a bid comes forward, we will consider it.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Llandudno and Lord Roberts of Conwy, rather than being concerned with the unemployment figures and bank holidays on St David’s Day, would be better advised to look at the latest opinion polls?

My Lords, I thought that there was cause for much celebration today, but for some of us opinion polls are always attended to with some degree of scepticism and doubt. If there was cause for celebration in some parts of the House, that probably took place earlier than today.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, might be well advised to have a holiday in the Lebanon? When I was posted in Beirut, many years ago, it was reputed to have more national and religious holidays than any other country in the world.

My Lords, the UK does not compare well on bank holidays with other countries—the noble Lord draws the attention of the House to a particular illustration—but we do not do badly on holidays as a whole in comparison with others.

My Lords, if there are to be more holidays in the land of my fathers, which I personally would welcome, might it be wiser not to make them bank holidays? Most of us feel that holidays are not the appropriate thing for the banks at the moment; they should be working rather harder to pay us back all the money that we have lent them.

That is a very interesting point. Almost the only thing that the banks are associated with favourably at the moment is bank holidays, but we ought to bear in mind the point that the noble Lord has made. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is emphasising that there is an enthusiasm in Wales and among Welsh people everywhere to celebrate 1 March, as I think the Welsh do.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the Bank Holidays Act 1871 it was wisely provided that additional days could be added to the original list by royal proclamation? This power was used to add St Patrick’s Day in 2003 and the successor to the original Act was used to add St Andrew’s Day in 2007. Does the Minister think that, after all this time, it would at least be worth consulting the people of Wales on whether they would like a national day to be celebrated by a bank holiday in accordance with the practice elsewhere in these islands?

My Lords, I emphasise, with the most apposite example, that St Andrew’s Day is not an additional bank holiday; it is a substitute for another holiday in Scotland. If the Welsh Assembly chose to go down that route, we would look at the issue very seriously, but in the bid for legislation this year the Welsh did not ask for that power.

My Lords, may I endorse, with great pleasure and with humility, the candidature of St David? He was a British-born saint who lived all his life among his people, which is a record not shared by all his saintly colleagues.

The history of the saints throws up some interesting illustrations, but I am happy to testify to the authenticity of St David.

My Lords, if we believe in devolution, should this decision not sensibly be left to the National Assembly?

My Lords, it is in one sense but, at the moment, this requires primary legislation. If the Welsh want to make changes, they need to make representations for the British Government to consider against the background of the other factors involved, which I have mentioned. I am merely saying that the Welsh Assembly Government have not made a submission thus far.